Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Advent – December 18, 2011 by Monsignor Perez
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
The Church continues its’ theme for all of Advent, of course, which is, has been, and continues to be the preparation for the coming of the Lord, principally in our face-to-face meeting with Him at either the end of the world when He comes as our judge, or when we die and He judges us individually, whichever comes first. But we are preparing ourselves. I mean, that is what life is about, preparing ourselves to meet Him.
In this preparation to meet Him, there are various things we can do, and I have been offering a series of meditations that people find, I hope, helpful in this process. And I want to start out by saying that the goal of life, the principal thing we are about is saving our souls, which involves the pursuit of truth. Every human being, their first and only duty in life is to seek the truth. And the truth is something outside of us. There is no truth for me and truth for you and truth for another person. Yes, we have dimmed intellect because of the fall of man through the sin of Adam and Eve somewhat. But, in spite of the dimmed intellect, we still have intellect. And this intellect was given to us by God principally to find Him and work out our eternal salvation with Him. That is why we have intellect. We use it also for other things. Well, some people don’t, but most people use it also for other things, which we have to do. You have to use your intelligent for providing for your family and providing the means of attaining eternal life. But the first mission there is to find the truth, and then grab onto that truth and practice it.
The fact of it is that Christ endowed His Church with external signs that indicate the truth is this way to the Catholic Church. The pursuit of truth involves one thing, and that is the aligning one’s mind and thoughts to what actually is. This is the pursuit of truth. You know, anything else is a falsehood. We have to align our minds and hearts, our thoughts, everything, with what truly is, that external truth. So, first of all, there are the truths of the faith, the simple truths but profound at the same time. The Trinity, the fact that the second person of the Trinity took on human flesh and died for our sins, founded the Church for the salvation of mankind, and this kind of thing. Those are the principal truths that our intellect is searching after, but any truth is included in that, as well. And this also comes down to truth, for example, in speech. Because if you are truly seeking after the truth, then your speech and your behavior and everything will reflect this as well.
Remember Christ, for example, said, “Let your speech be yea, yea and nay nay. All else is from the evil one”. And what does that mean? It means that you should be speaking the truth to the extent of your ability, and when your answer is yes, you say yes, and when your answer is no, you say no. An example, we are in the season of various parties and things like that, Christmas parties, New Year’s parties, and things like that. And you will notice, especially if you are having a party, that people sometimes will hedge a little bit. They’ll say, Well, I’ll see if I can come. What they really mean is, I’m going to wait for something better to come up than your stupid old party. And when it does, then I’ll call you and tell you that I’m rearranging the kittens or something that day, or polishing the back of the refrigerator, one of those essential duties that I’ve had to do. And then they will go to the other party.
Well, that’s not honest. You don’t tell the person, Well your parties are usually boring and I don’t want to come. But you would say, Yes, I can come, or No, I can’t come, this kind of thing. And that’s just one little example. When somebody needs to do something and you let them know what needs to be done, and they make some sort of excuse or whatever, all other speech is from the devil. It doesn’t represent aligning with truth.
Now, what I want to offer to you for a reflection today for your meditation is a reflection and meditation on something that we do all the time, which is the Act of Contrition, which we do following our confessions in the confessional. And the reason I want to do this is, we often pass over the Act of Contrition, we say it, we know when to say it or some of us know when to say it, most of us do, and how to say it, but there are many things expressed in the Act of Contrition that if you truly reflected your deep pursuit of the truth, your speech, as Our Lord said, would be yea, yea, nay, nay, and the Act of Contrition would actually mean something more profound for you. And so I wanted to begin with picking apart the simple Act of Contrition.
Now, there are various Acts of Contrition in circulation. There’s kind of two main ones, and I’ll deal with those little variations — I can’t deal with the other ones. The Novus Ordo they have like little children’s Acts of Contritions, and now they are getting into the green movements and things like that, so they come in and their Act of Contrition is, you know, I’m sorry for increasing my carbon print and failing to hug trees, amen, and this kind of thing. But these are the two usual ones and I’ll be dealing with little variations on each one.
So, we begin, then, with Oh, my God — and OMG won’t do in this case for those of you who text, you know, that kind of thing. Oh, my God. Now what does even that first phrase — every phrase in the Act of Contrition has a much broader meaning than what we think of. Oh, my God means, first of all, I accept the relationship of God, because it is a capital G, with myself. He is my God. And I don’t mean, as some people do, they’ll say, Oh, my God is this or my God is that. That’s not what it means. It means God the way He is, I accept that. He is God, the Creator, Sanctifier and Redeemer of all things. I am not. And accepting Him as God with a capital G, I accept that I owe Him prayer, I owe Him penance, I owe Him adoration and worship. I owe Him everything because He created me. And in just saying Oh, my God, which we should not say casually — if you are in the habit of doing that because it’s becoming very unfortunately popular being said by people who don’t mean it with respect, then substitute something else for it, like, Oh, whatever, Oh, potatoes, or something like that, instead of using Oh, my God disrespectfully.
So, we accept that relationship of love and submission, obedience and adoration, to the God that He is. Having put everything in order at the beginning of the Act of Contrition, we can go on with it. I am heartily sorry. I get variations from the kiddies and it’s not, I am hardly sorry. Although maybe some people are hardly sorry (Monsignor laughing), but I think they really mean to say it the right way, and heartily sorry. Think about that, heartily sorry. The heart traditionally is the seat of our deepest sentiments and emotions. It’s representative of that, it’s symbolic. Our deepest sentiments of any sort reside in the heart. And even though we know what the heart is, you know, an organ that pumps blood and things like that, less romantic than we’ve looked at it in the past, we still use the metaphor. And so, in saying I am heartily sorry, what you mean is with your deepest sentiments, with your deepest will and what is inside of you, you are sorry for these sins, you are as well as you can make yourself be by preparing a good confession, and things like that. This sorrow comes from your heart. It’s not the kind of sorry — remember I said, if two brothers, it’s natural that brothers wallop each other in the course of events when they are growing up. And, you know, after they do so, mother says, Now, say you’re sorry. And they go, Sorry. (Said as quickly as possible) and not heartily sorry, right? It’s just superficially sorry. So what we are saying is we’re not just saying to God, Yeah, I’m sorry, because that won’t even do for Him. He reads the heart. He knows if you are heartily sorry. And being heartily sorry is the only thing that is going to save you here. So, you have to prepare your confession well with much meditation on what the forgiveness of sins cost Our Lord, which was His agony and death on the cross for that little sacrament there and this Church.
Anyway, when we say that, and we are saying yea, yea, nay, nay, then we are not just saying sorry, we have sorrow in the depths of our being. I am sorry for having offended Thee. Now, a lot of people are sorry, maybe not heartfelt, but sorry in different circumstances. When they are caught. For example, politicians or football coaches, whatever, this kind of thing. They are all sorry when they are caught. And, what are they sorry for? They are sorry that they were caught and that they have embarrassed their families or did something scandalous like that, and that the embarrassment is now falling on them and the ones close to them. But, we are sorry principally for having offended God, when we are talking to Him, having offended Thee. Why? Because when we sin, when we do something bad to somebody else, if I am uncharitable to you, or I lie to you or do something like that that we do in the course of human events, I have, yes, done something to you, but the sin is against God. So, if you are uncharitable to somebody, or you calumniate them, or whatever, you apologize to them. But the sin is not against them. You can’t sin against a human person. You sin against God. And, so, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, principal, as my first sorrow, is offending God. Then why? Well, the traditional one has, because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, as part of the reason we are sorry. The other one leaves that part out. Think about that. But that’s really not the first reason for our sorrow, and we go on to say that in the Act of Contrition.
We are acknowledging that sins result in the loss of heaven and getting the pains of hell. That’s what sin does. So, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, which we have to dread more than anything else. Remember why we are here on earth? We are here on earth not to make lots of money to leave to your grandchildren, or endow a chair in microbiology or something like that at the University of Phoenix, you know, this kind of thing. We are here on earth to work out our salvation and to avoid sin and evil and to pursue truth. Without that first goal in life, the rest of our life is stupid, stupid. That’s what life is, worthless, if you are not saving your soul. There is no point. And even Our Lord expresses that, “What does it profit a man if he gains the world basically and loses his soul“. Nothing. So all these people, think of throughout history, although we can’t judge if they are in heaven or hell, how many of them might be in hell that are remembered as great names by history, and when the end of time comes, they will be utterly forgotten because they will be in hell and not worthy of remembrance because they did not befriend God.
So, because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all — actually, the first reason which could be put in order before the loss of heaven and the pains of hell — because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. Now, art all good, thou art all good — we have a much too kind of anthropomorphic view, meaning we humanize the Blessed Trinity sometimes, and we think, Oh, yes, sometimes they’re good and sometimes they’re bad, and whatever, you know, a lot of us have misery in life and we think, Well, God is just being cruel at the moment and being mean. Well, these things are evil. God cannot be evil, He cannot do anything that’s even in the slightest bit evil. Why does He have to be good? Because evil is a lack of goodness. That is what evil is. Evil is not a positive thing. Evil is the lack of goodness. Now, the more goodness you lack, the more evil you are. But evil doesn’t exist in the sense that goodness does. It is a lack of goodness. And God, who is the God as we understand Him, can’t lack anything. What could God lack and still be God? He has everything, everything good, and has to be good by definition. Think about that. That’s an interesting thing. Because evil is a lack of good, and if God is lacking in goodness, then He is not God, and we have to rethink about who we are praying to and we must pray to the God who is all good. And being all good, He can do nothing to us that is not out of goodness and love. Whatever happens — you know, we can lose our jobs, lose our houses, lose our health, all this kind of stuff, but that is the result of evil in the world and not God directly causing it or willing it. Adam and Eve messed up the world and we live with it and we transmit it to our descendants. And that’s why we have these evil things in the world. But God doesn’t make them out of spite or vengeance and send them to us. He allows them to happen out of His goodness and love for us, which is the only thing that can happen.
Most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. Pure goodness deserves all your love. You should love that which is goodness and love itself. God is love, God is charity, God is goodness. A lot of times we say, Oh, God is good, especially if you are Protestant, you know, you say the grace, God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food, (Father pronouncing food to rhyme with good) or whatever, (Father laughing) if you’re going to keep the rhyme scheme. But in a sense He isn’t good in the sense that we mean it. It’s like, you know, we’re going to Midnight Mass, kids, and you had better be good. Well, why are we saying that? Because sometimes they are not good. God does not have qualities, He is qualities. God is goodness. That’s where goodness comes from. And He lets us see that reflected on earth. We’ve all known somebody who was a very, very good person that we wanted to imitate, that was just so charitable and so loving and so kind and such a good Catholic, never had a bad word to say about anybody. We realize, though, that they are still human and have faults, but they reflect the divine goodness as saints should, and give to others encouragement in that direction, by showing us what goodness is, so we have a reference. Besides the truths that will come from our study and meditation on God being good, we also have goodness to look at and say, Yeah, that all points to the all-good God and what He is like, in a certain vague way.
I firmly resolve — oh, yeah, I detest all my sins — I skipped a little. Part of that is, I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven. Detest is really strong. You know, we use like, I hate this, I hate that, a lot. Okay? And we don’t mean it. Oh, I hate her, oh, I hate him. Now the most uncharitable, annoying, vicious, evil person on earth you are not allowed to hate as a Christian. You have to hate their sins, you might not want to be around them, that’s fine, encouraged not to be around some people, of course. But, you can’t hate them. Christ says we have to pray for them at least, and leave the judgment in His hands. But, hate is rather too strong. You can hate fish, that’s one thing. You can absolutely hate fish and there is no sin in that whatsoever. But when it comes to people you can’t do that. But detest is along the same lines. It’s a very, very strong emotion. And we direct that towards sin, not towards people, not towards human beings. We direct it towards sin. Why? Because sin is the only thing that can come between us and the Lord. It’s the only thing we should hate and fear at the same time. Fear to do it, hate the existence of it, hate to do it, because, you know, other people can kill you, as they have the martyrs, but they couldn’t take God away from them. They couldn’t come between them and God. Only our own sin, which we do, can do that. So, we detest it, we have to detest it.
I firmly resolve. Firmly resolve, then, means, Oh, I’m going to try to do a little better, maybe I’ll try to avoid stealing this week, or, you know, this, that and the other thing. No, I firmly resolve means — you know, with the will of an Olympic athletic pursuing his gold medal, you are resolved to do what it takes to achieve your goal in heaven. So, what are you firmly resolved to do with the help of God’s grace? I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace — why that acknowledgment? The Council of Trent tells us — you know, it’s not a new teaching by any sense — but man cannot avoid mortal sin forever without God’s grace. You can try, but you can’t do it. And so we acknowledge that this avoidance of sin that we detest so much and our firm resolve is only possible with the supernatural grace of God. And we depend on Him for that.
Firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace to confess my sins, and, obviously, when you are saying this you just did confess your sins, but we are praying as well that it was a worthy confession, that we remembered the things that we needed to confess in that confession, and that all the other conditions for a good confession were there, for example. A lot of people wait, I think a little bit too long for confession. You know, you should be going maybe every month, about every month at a good minimum. There are people who come in who say it’s been eight or nine months or a year, whatever. Well, strictly speaking, you have to confess once a year, but if you only confess once a year, how much are you forgetting. It’s kind of recklessness. Now, I don’t know of anybody in my congregation with a photographic memory. And just don’t tell me because I’ll be jealous, but if anybody here does have a photographic memory, okay, you could go longer without confessing. The rest of us, you know, what did you have for lunch three weeks ago. Well, who knows? But you want to make a good confession by going once every few months, nine months, six months, whatever it is? We’re not made that way. In order to have a worthy, sincere confession, we have to get in there as often as is practicable. So, yes, to confess my sins and to make that a worthy confession. I suggest if it’s been a while — you know, it’s never too late. I’m not saying if it has been longer than six months, just go home and die, or something. That’s not it at all. It’s never too late if you haven’t been to confession in a long time. You can do a good examination of conscience and write the sins down, if you have to do. And just hope nobody, like your kids or mother finds the list, but you can, writing it down is sometimes very helpful.
Okay, to confess my sins, to do penance, you notice how this is worded. It doesn’t say to do the penance that Father gives me, because that’s not what it means at all. You have to do that. You’d better do that. And what is that, though? A decade of the rosary, a whole rosary, something like that? That’s nothing with regard to our sins. It’s a drop in the bucket. Penance is something we do every day and every hour of every day. It’s an attitude of the Christian who wants to go to heaven. And I don’t mean the severe, kind of wacky penances that you hear about sometimes. That’s I don’t even think pleasing to God. I mean an attitude of penance that offers to God even small things in the course of the day, something you have to do that you are dreading, but you have to do for your duty as a father or mother or child or whatever. Somebody you have to come in contact with that you really can’t stand, but that you must for the sake of God or something else, have contact with that person, for charity’s sake, usually. You offer that up to the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart in reparation for vilification of Their Names and holy persons, but also for our own sins. And that’s an attitude you develop and you do all the time. It’s a habit that you acquire with the help of God. So, when we say, to do penance, we mean do penance, which involves knowing what sin is and how bad it is. You know, sin is much worse than you think. That’s why it’s the most evil thing in the universe. Remember, I’ve said it before but it’s good to remember, all of mankind must die because of one sin. We all have to die because of one single sin, and that is, of course, the sin of Adam. But that shows you just how bad sin is. So, do penance, develop the attitude of penance and continually put that into action.
And to amend my life, amend my life. What does this mean? It means you do what it takes to get out of — the other one says to avoid the near occasion of sin, which is included in amending your life, and if you just say, I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace — I don’t know, they leave out amend my life and all of that, to confess my sins, but they just say to avoid the near occasion of sin. It’s okay, but I think better is the whole amendment of life. What is amendment of life? Amend means to put back together, to fix, to make it whole again. And, when you amend your life, it means you put back the pieces that are missing, and take out the things that shouldn’t be there. You put everything back in order that is pleasing to God. That’s amending your life.
If you really mean the rest of the Act of Contrition, you have to get away from the things that are inviting you to sin. If you have a boyfriend or a girl friend that is causing you to be tempted beyond your ability to resist and to engage in sins, you have to break up with them if you can’t control it. And I’d say, if this has gone on for more than a couple of occasions, then you have to be honest that your soul is worth more than any boyfriend or girl friend. The girls will agree with that more readily, I guess, than the boys will. But, you know, offending God is not worth any human being. So, if they are the occasion, if you are going to amend your life, if you are serious about this confession, you break up with them and you get away from them. See them as the devil for you. That’s what they are like. You know, they are like the devil. Just picture your boyfriend with horns and a tail, if he is causing you to sin all the time. And that’s what he is. He’s the devil.
Things like immodest dress, there are people who come in and confess immodest dress — I know, there’s two senses of immodest dress. If you are dressed well, you have a lovely outfit on, and you take it off and walk outside, that’s immodest dress, that’s not really what I’m talking about. But there are people who own things that are immodest no matter how you wear them. Form fitting blouses, tight sweaters on a woman, those are sinful no matter what. If they are hugging your body, you don’t wear them if you are serious about going to heaven. Why? Because you are poisoning people on earth and infecting them with temptations. You know, you are right there in front of them. So, what you do instead of just confessing immodest dress, you get rid of everything in your wardrobe that is immodest, if you are going to amend your life. If you don’t, if these form-fitting, tight little skimpy things are still in your closet, you are not amending your life. And, really, your confession is no good. If you don’t intend to get rid of the immodest dress, your confession has no value in the eyes of God. It’s worthless. But how many people do we see time and time again. Things like that are important. Those are just a couple of examples. So, you have to amend my life.
And then the last word, Amen, as we say after every good Catholic prayer, is Hebrew for I accept and agree to what I just said, that I mean that, I will that, and it’s kind of the seal on the document at the end with your yea, yea, nay, nay.
So, my dear faithful, here we are, one week left to confess our sins, do penance, and amend our lives before the celebration of the coming of Our Lord. We have a longer Advent this year, the longest it can be. Let’s use the rest of it worthily by our meditation on this Act of Contrition.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.